For a comic as gruesome as “Ultimatum,” issue #5 is surprisingly short on sound effects. So before I review the finale of what many have called Marvel’s “snuff comic,” I’ll flip through the issue page by page, and add the appropriate (yet missing) sound effects here as needed: snikt, slice, boom, splort, splort, splort, wham, boom, drip, zam, splort, boom, gurgle, splort, crack, splort, solemn-high-five.
Such onomatopoetics alone are surely enough to indicate the kind of comic we’re talking about here. “Ultimatum” #5 is the fifth part of, not a story, but of a line-wide clearing of the decks. Though Jeph Loeb set these events in motion back in the first issue of the abysmal “Ultimates 3” series, this isn’t some complexly plotted “event comics” masterpiece. No, it’s a series of pages in which someone does something while yelling or gritting his or her teeth, and someone else dies. It’s practically page after page of murder, disembowelment, evisceration, and decapitation. And all of it driven not by the logic of characterization and prior continuity, but cynically arranged because the Ultimate Universe had lost its way, or wasn’t getting enough attention anymore.
There’s plenty to dislike about this comic. From a larger contextual perspective, it’s just a brutal and inglorious way to end the Ultimate line. Perhaps the Ultimate Universe comics were always cynical — just a way to grab more cash by taking the Marvel characters and “updating” them for a new generation (an Iceman do-rag here, a Harry Potteresque Reed Richards there, a rad new Green Goblin in between) — but the stories themselves contained a wide-eyed innocence. The Ultimate Universe comics (arguably until Millar and Hitch came along) were about enthusiastic youth overcoming incredible adversity. It was a Marvel Universe Remix, and many of the stories in those early years were better than their contemporary Marvel counterparts. So to see all of it — not just the always grim and cynical Ultimates, but all of it — end with wholesale slaughter and dozens of heroes listed in the “In Memoriam” section at the end? It feels cheap. It feels sleazy.
From a more narrow perspective, looking at “Ultimatum” as a kind of story, looking at “Ultimatum” #5 the conclusion of that supposed story, there’s just not much quality to be found. David Finch is a popular artist in some sections of comic fandom, and I can see why his highly-detailed style of art has its appeal, but in this comic, the attention to detail doesn’t make the deaths more real, or more resonant. It just makes it so you can see the texture of the bowels being blasted out of Wolverine’s belly, or the little chunks of skull and brain. Perhaps that’s your sort of thing. For me, it just emphasizes that the trashy style is the only attempt at substance here.
And what was the in-story point of all this death and destruction? It was because Magneto was angry, and then as soon as he gets a plot summary of Brian Michael Bendis’s “Ultimate Origins” injected into his brain, he immediately turns into a sniveling coward who laments what he has done. It’s a silly turn of events that seems to do nothing more than to show how little any of this matters. It’s just an excuse to blow more heads off and make way for Ultimate Universe Volume 2: More Cynical than Ever.
Perhaps this series will rekindle some interest in the Ultimate Universe. Perhaps the stories that will be told in that world will now be more interesting because the normal Marvel analogues no longer apply.
But this series was a hell of a way to get to that point, and it will take a while before its stench of sad desperation disappears from the Ultimate comics that follow.